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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Your Roadmap to Protecting Health in Disasters

Author: By Jonathan Ban, Acting Director, Division of Policy and Strategic Planning, Assistant Secretary of Preparedness and Response
Published Date: 3/10/2015 9:18:00 AM
Category: Public Health Preparedness; Hospital Preparedness; National Health Security;

When disaster strikes, we want one basic question answered: Is everybody okay? As a husband and father, I want to know that my family is safe and healthy. I also want to know that my neighbors and friends are okay. Because I work for an agency dedicated to health security, I have a broader focus, too; I want to know that residents in every community across the country can continue to receive the care they need and that the community’s health care and public health systems can recover quickly.

Others may frame their worries a little differently. Hospitals and healthcare facilities know that more people will need care and they want to be sure they can handle a flood of new patients who may come in for help. People with health chronic conditions who rely on durable medical equipment or dialysis want to know if they will be able to continue receiving the care they need to stay out of the hospital. State, local, tribal and territorial officials want to know if they have all the information they need to make sound decisions when every second counts.

These are all aspects of health security, a term which means that healthy individuals, families, and communities have access to health care and the knowledge and resources to know what to do to care for themselves and others in routine and emergency situations. Communities help build resilience by implementing policies and practices to ensure the conditions under which people can be healthy, by assuring access to medical care, building social cohesion, supporting healthy behaviors, and creating a culture of preparedness in which bystander response to emergencies is not the exception but the norm.

Many of the things that health departments and hospitals across the country do every day enhance health security. They plan how to handle a surge in the patients and how staff special media needs shelters after disasters. They pull all the health related groups in their community together as healthcare coalitions and run emergency drills together. They are forever on alert for outbreaks or clusters of infectious diseases, like measles, so they can educate residents on how to protect health. They sponsor annual flu vaccination clinics, and much more.

Yet, it’s not just health care facilities and health departments that contribute to our nation’s health security. Every business, every place of worship, every neighborhood association, every civic organization, and every resident can make a difference. Everyone can take steps that protect health – their own, their neighbor’s, their community’s health – in an emergency. For example, individuals can get trained in CPR and be ready to be an active bystander who can assist when an emergency strikes.

Hundreds of organizations and people participated in identifying actions they could take to enhance health security. These actions roll up into an entire strategy, a national health security strategy.  Ultimately, the strategy is a roadmap that leads to health that’s secure no matter what comes our way.





Comments:

VP, Research and Hospital Engagement

The point that we are all responsible, individually and collectively, is critical. As we think about how we credential organizations, we should also think about how we prioritize ongoing training in this area. Given the current financial constraints of health care organizations, many leaders are reticent about investing in preparedness. What we should ask is, "What is the cost if we don't?". Trained employees are not just trained employees, they are trained stakeholders in their communities and civic groups.
3/12/2015 11:56:30 AM

Clinical Professor, NYUCD

 The process of emergency response and recovery following Superstorm Sandy and earlier extreme weather events brought into sharp focus the necessity of building redundancy into essential systems for ensuring community resilience as large-scale disasters can overwhelm or severely impact a community’s infrastructure and delivery of essential services.  The all-hazards approach to preparedness requires a response that is flexible and adaptive,with robust capabilities to cope with diverse events and hazards. Such a response needs to move quickly, and in a coordinated manner to treat and assist affected individuals.  An area of overall health/medical concern not often considered, are the immediate, short-and long-term dental and oral health needs of the disaster victims.  Discussions with the American Red Cross revealed shortfalls exist in the disaster response and recovery efforts attending to oral health/dental issues both during the emergency event and in the recovery period.  Oral health, in this instance, is defined as the condition of being free from mouth and tooth pain, and the individual having the capacity to chew and speak, all essential to good general health and quality of life. Since 9/11, New York University, College of Dentistry has taken a leadership role in education and training in disaster readiness, and public health preparedness for the dental profession, and other healthcare providers. As a National Disaster Life Support (NDLS) Training Center, NYUCD also provides disaster response training to members of the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC).  NYUCD is well-positioned to function as a regional/State disaster resource and referral center to address dental emergencies. An academic dental center, it has the resources and infrastructure to coordinate efforts to respond to dental/oral health emergencies during disasters and recovery. David L Glotzer
3/20/2015 9:15:51 AM

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